The Toronto Police Services Board is rethinking how to issue receipts for “street checks” and have put them on hold until at least next month, despite the fact the forms are already at the printers.
Police Chief Bill Blair told the board Wednesday the receipts had been ordered, surprising some members who expected to view them before they were finalized.
The board also went one step further, calling for a review of all the information that police ask for during “street checks,” which is much more extensive than the information Blair put on the receipt.
“I want to look at a complete overhaul and a review,” said Councillor Michael Thompson, the board’s vice-chair. “That helps us to really provide better policing for the community.”
The receipts are in response to several motions passed by the board in April after the Star ran Known to Police, a series which showed that blacks are 3.2 times more likely to be stopped and documented by the Toronto force than whites. In an average police patrol zone, four times as many young black men are documented as the number census figures show actually live there.
Many civil rights organizations denounce the street checks as a violation of Charter rights but see issuing receipts as a way to track the stops as well as reduce their numbers.
As the public board meeting was getting underway, police locked down the building, shutting out some speakers who were on a list to give deputations to the board, including former Toronto mayor John Sewell, a street pastor and community and youth activists. A CBC crew was also locked out and later escorted in a back door.
The move came after a rally outside organized by the Justice is NOT Colour-Blind Campaign, which called for an end to racial profiling. The speakers were eventually allowed in.
“Since when are protesters blocked from a public meeting,” said a shocked Noa Mendelsohn Aviv of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “And the fact that three people who were to speak before the board weren’t able to get in — those three people are all racialized — is a further indication that there is a problem here.”
Blair has acknowledged that “racial bias and racial profiling can occur,” but said profiling will not be “tolerated by the force.”
The chief said problems in some communities are “caused by individuals who don’t live there” and they account for 70 per cent of people documented by police.
The board made the decision to delay the receipts after hearing from organizations such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Union and the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, which said the forms needed more information than just the name of the person stopped, the location, date, time and reason for the interaction as well as the name of the officer issuing the receipt. They called for a detailed reason for the police stop and not the use of terms such as “general investigation.”
The Toronto force stops as many as 400,000 people annually, asking for an individual’s personal information as well as details such as their color, birth place, driver’s licence, gang and club description, if they’re attending school as well as their parents’ surnames and marital status.
Blair told the board he thought the receipts and the information sought during street checks were part of operations, and as such, didn’t come under the board’s purview of policy.
He nonetheless deferred to the board’s motions.